By Karen Watkins
Cape Town - The wonders of the West Coast are like eating an artichoke – the more layers you peel away the sweeter it gets. I’ve been there quite a lot lately and can’t get enough. Escaping wintry weather I joined the Peninsula Ramblers on the Schaapeiland Hiking Trail at Yzerfontein. At only 7km there is much to see.
Parking at the end of 16-Mile Beach stretching north to Postberg it’s the country’s longest uninterrupted sandy beach. But we went south following footprints past the Information Office and the harbour with Dassen Island about 9km offshore. It’s the home of thousands of African penguins and pelicans. Meandering around bays, over bluffs and past ancient shell middens we stopped often to watch seals slicing through white-capped waves. Inland ink-black outcrops are dotted with fishermen angling for fish or collecting mussels.
Curious about trail markers we guessed they are named by fishermen – Gladebank, slippery rock; Spuitgat, spout; Deersprin, jump; Draaibank for the switches and turns made by the currents; and Netjiesgooi, throwing neatly. Reaching the trail end we scrunched over mussel shells and continued along the beach investigating flotsam, jetsam and a dead fish. Some braved the water for a lightning-quick dip while others photographed a family of African black oystercatchers.
On our way back to the West Coast Road we stopped at two lime kilns, the only two that remain in the country. Built in the 1940s by a Milnerton building material merchant they were still in use in 1976 and are the reason for the white-washed cottages along this coast. They were declared national monuments in 1980.
Inside are the remains of a fine meshed grid on which alternate layers of mussel shells and wood were placed. A fire would be kindled above ground in the lower compartment. Built from limestone, this apparently does not crack when it becomes very hot. Air would be forced through the oven by bellows and the heat turned the shells to a fine ash which then fell through the grid. This ash was then mixed with water and left in the enclosure to allow water to evaporate. The lime powder left behind was formed into a binding material and used to white-wash houses or as cement between bricks.
Months later Darling resident Ella du Plessis organised a weekend staying at !Khwa ttu’s bushcamp. Tucked away in the bush are five tents sleeping four in each, a boma and al fresco showers.
!Khwa ttu is a San community-based tourism and hospitality centre. Their mission is to restore the heritage of the San and provide training for young San women and men from Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. They also educate the public about the San world.
Loading my bicycle I cycled to Yzerfontein to find the Information Centre open. Known as the Vishuis, this thatched cottage is the oldest building in town and where Klasie Pienaar salted harders, “bokkoms”, which he sold to farmers. The name “yzer” derives from the iron deposits in the drinking water. Water was always a problem and Klasie allowed holidaymakers to draw water from his well but with so many people there was not enough. They then had to walk to the Brulsand to dig for water and two resourceful boys carried water back in buckets which they sold for a penny a bucket.
Ella had organised a full programme with olive and wine-tasting at Alexanderfontein, a “blind” wine-tasting by Charles Withington at Darling Wine Shop and a delicious lunch deftly prepared by Sandi Collins, owner of The Marmalade Cat. Her lemon meringue and cheesecake are to die for. Time for a nap but, no, Ella had us walking through town in search of the local “nightingale” Joanne Delport, accompanied on guitar by Neil Rhoda.
On Sunday with fog creeping in from the coast we hiked the 4km-long Renosterveld Trail passing a bird hide, rock art and lapa with a loo with a view. We hadn’t gone far before seeing a bat-eared fox and later ostriches, zebra, eland and other buck; sadly no birds.
Then it was time for senior guide Ivan Vaalbooi to take us on a tour of the medicinal plant garden. With the silhouette of Table Mountain in the background we clicked, smelled, tasted and rubbed as he took us on a journey into San history, traditional knowledge, language, medicinal and edible plants, skills, customs and current affairs.
To end the weekend we had lunch on the lawn at !Khwa-ttu’s restaurant. No wonder it was packed, the food is good and so is the service.
The variety of accommodation includes a secluded San bush village where guests sleep in grass huts, a bush house sleeping four and the guest house atop a hill, which sleeps six. For information, call 022 492 2998. - Cape Times
l Watkins is author of Off the Beaten Track and Adventure Hikes in the Cape Peninsula.
A fishy tale
A grusome tale surrounds Yzerfontein’s lime kilns. Legend has it that farmer Thys Schreuder had a friend, Johannes Genade, with whom he often went fishing. During WW1 a widower called Rosenleft settled in Yzerfontein with several children and visited Mrs Schreuder when her husband was away. One day one of her daughters heard her mother and Rosenleft plotting to murder her father. Rosenleft had his eye on the mother and the farm. The daughter told her father who immediately changed his will in favour of his daughter. One day, when Schreuder and Genade went fishing, Rosenleft murdered them. Genade’s body washed up days later with blue marks on his neck. Rosenleft apparently told Mrs Schreuder Genade had murdered her husband and when she refused to believe him he returned with his severed head wrapped in newspaper. Later the two of them threw the severed head into the toilet. It is said the rest of the body was burnt because it was never found. Some believe Rosenleft incinerated it in one of the lime kilns.